U.S. crude prices eked out slight gains on Wednesday, despite supportive geopolitical tensions in the previous session fading and focus returning to the global oil glut.
Traders and investors also appeared to be avoiding big new short positions in U.S. crude ahead of Thursday's market close for the Thanksgiving holiday, analysts said.
By noon in New York, U.S. crude's West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures had traded less than 240,000 lots, about half of Monday's volume. The lighter volume could have the potential to distort price moves.
"With this being a holiday-shortened week, I'd expect the moves to be larger-than-normal," said Tariq Zahir, who mostly trades in crude oil spreads for Tyche Capital Advisors in Long Island, New York.
was down 8 cents to $46.05 a barrel by 2:33 p.m. EDT, having touched a session bottom of $45.03 earlier. Brent hit a two-week high of $46.50 on Tuesday and again on Wednesday, reacting to Turkey's downing of a Russian warplane.
U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) settled up 17 cents at $43.04 a barrel, having earlier fallen as low as $41.72.
U.S. crude futures briefly traded near positive territory after Baker Hughes reported another drop in the country's oil rig count.
The number of rigs operating in U.S. oilfields fell by nine to a total of 555, compared with 1,572 at the same time last year.
Also on Wednesday, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said crude oil stocks across the country rose by 961,000 barrels last week. A preliminary inventory report by industry group American Petroleum Institute had anticipated a 2.6-million barrel rise, while a Reuters poll of analysts forecast a 1.2-million-barrel build.
While the smaller crude stocks number announced by the EIA pulled the market up from the day's lows, big inventory rises in gasoline and distillates prevented crude futures from turning positive, traders noted.
Gasoline stocks rose by 2.5 million barrels, versus the 938,000-barrel build forecast in the Reuters poll.
Distillate stockpiles, which include diesel and heating oil, rose by 1 million barrels, versus expectations for a 417,000 barrels drop.
U.S. gasoline futures were down almost 2 percent. Futures of ultra-low sulfur diesel fell more than half a percent.
While U.S. crude stocks as a whole rose by less than 1 million barrels, the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery hub for WTI futures alone saw a 1.74 million-barrel build. Big rises in Cushing often tend to pressure prices.
"In all, the bears practically ran the table," said John Kilduff, partner at New York energy hedge fund Again Capital.